The chairman of Alberta Pork Producers Development Corp. says China’s decision to reopen its borders to North American pork is welcome news for the industry.
“Every little bit helps,” said Herman Simons, who operates a hog farm near Tees.
The Asian country banned pork products from Canada, the United States and Mexico this spring after the H1N1 flu virus was found in pigs.
It was among a number of countries to take such action, despite the fact there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through pork.
On Tuesday, China removed its restrictions on North American pork, although not live animals.
In 2008, said Simons, Canadian pork exports to China totalled about $47 million.
And much of the U$560 million worth of American pork exports to China that year also originated on Canadian farms.
“China is important for products that we don’t traditionally consume here in North America, or in other markets,” added Simons, listing pig noses as one example.
“So it will add to the mix of products that we can now market.”
He also expressed optimism that the remaining import restrictions in other countries will also soon be removed.
However, Simons said it’s disconcerting that some consumers continue to associate the pandemic flu with pork — a connection perpetuated by use of the term “swine flu.”
“It’s really, really frustrating to hear that.”
Just a small decline in demand for pork can have a devastating impact on the prices producers receive, he pointed out.
“The price fluctuation between a good market and a bad market within the North American industry is only three or four per cent.
“That’s how vulnerable we are — that small range in consumption will have such a dramatic impact on our industry.”
Meanwhile, continued Simons, the Canadian pork industry continues to suffer from issues like high production costs, the rising loonie and country of origin labelling requirements instituted in the United States.
“We continue to struggle with profitability, so it’s important for us that we gain market access and increase our sales in the world market.”
He thinks his industry is taking important steps in this regard.
“If we can get through this winter, I do believe there are better times on the horizon.”
If not, he warned, the result could instead be a loss of processing capacity and infrastructure, which would hurt Alberta’s — and Red Deer’s — economies.